Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Seven months ago now, my friend Christina and I started a book club. The point of that book club was to read what I was needing to read for school, but that failed pretty quickly (my friends are supportive, but most aren’t that supportive). Since then, it has changed and morphed into a science fiction book club, which is more or less just an excuse for us to read fun books and hang out with some of our closest friends.

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2015 Reading Challenge

So, for the last three years now I have been embarking on an intentional reading challenge. In 2012, I made it a goal to read either 100 books or 80 books plus The Silmarillion (I ended up doing the latter). In 2013, I read only a handful of books because of finishing my MA exams. Then, for 2014, I made the goal of reading 75 books but only ended up reading 57.

This year, my goal is to read 50 books while keeping up with my PhD work. Part of this is because I know it is important for my mental health that I continue to do fun reading. Part of it, however, is practical: I have piles and piles of books that I want to read, but not necessarily keep. If I can get them read, I’ll be able to make more space. And besides, as a Literature fellow, I really do need to be reading some of the more modern fiction books as well as the classics so I can participate more in conversations within the department (I’m a great books girl in a non-great books world).

As a reader of the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, I am also looking at the MMD reading challenge. This challenge involves reading a book in each of the following categories:

·      A book you’ve been meaning to read
·      A book published this year
·      A book in a genre you don’t typically read
·      A book from your childhood
·      A book your mom loves
·      A book that was originally written in a different language
·      A book “everyone” has read but you
·      A book you chose because of the cover
·      A book by a favorite author
·      A book recommended to you by someone with great taste
·      A book you should have read in high school The Giver by Lois Lowry
·      A book that’s currently on the bestseller list

As you can see, I’ve already finished a book from one of the categories. Today I read The Giver, which I’ve been meaning to read since before high school. It was a good read and I’m glad I can now say I’ve read it. A lot of people have been talking about it lately because of the movie and I’m glad I finally caved into the pressure.

Now, on to the next book! I’m not sure yet what it will be, but I’m trying to enjoy this last little bit of time before classes begin by reading as much as I can.

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown

The following is an excerpt from a review I have published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine

Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.


To read the rest of this review, download the June issue of Spiritual Uprising Magazine. The e-magazine is available for free! You can find it at http://www.up-ministries.org/current-issue.html

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

 (I’m having a hard time writing a review for this book because nothing I can say will do it justice. Please, just read the book.)

For the Triduum + Easter, I made my retreat this year by reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Just as with Jayber Crow, Hannah’s story involves a great deal of reflection on scripture, but especially involves reflection over the line, “Thy will be done,” from the Lord’s Prayer.

Yet, again, it is not a book strictly about theology or faith. This is the story of a woman named Hannah Coulter, told by her as an old woman. She remembers the moments of her life, treasuring them as an old woman sitting alone in her rocking chair.

Berry’s writing is profound. Through Hannah, we experience loss, grief, and the guilt at loving again. We experience acceptance and the healing power of community.  Hannah’s thoughts and reflections over the events of her life made her the perfect companion on my Easter journey this year.

Reading Hannah Coulter was lovely for multiple reasons, not least of all hearing more stories about the characters I fell in love with in Jayber Crow. I long to enter into the books, to take part in the daily life of Port William—a place as real to its readers as the world in which we live and breathe.

Hannah’s story is that of a farm wife, a hard working woman who has known the pleasure of a well-lived life and the pain of children falling away from faith and family. Her story can touch anyone—she is so utterly relatable. I think everyone should read this book.

I give this book 5.5 stars—because 5 stars just aren’t enough.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow is probably one of my favorite books of all time, if not my very favorite book. Reading it was like spiritual reading and prayer and rest all at the same time. The line that will probably stick with me longer than any other is when Jayber says, “The Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

Jayber’s reading of scripture and his belief in every line of the Lord’s Prayer make up a constant theme running in the background of the novel. Yet, do not be misled: this is not a book about religion or spirituality. The full title is Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself. This is a book about the life of a man named Jayber Crow, told from his point of view as an old man looking back at the life he lived with joy and sorrow, pride and shame. He tells the story of his life with this belief: “I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.” The pilgrimage he speaks of is not one with marked roads like on el camino, but the pilgrimage of life in which one makes his own way.

The story begins with the tale of how Jayber ended up as a child at an orphanage, then tells of his time there and the time after, during which he thought he was to become a preacher. Then, he ends up (as you knew from the very beginning—it’s the subtitle of the book) in the small township of Port William, acting as their barber.

Jayber’s tale is told with care—with the wisdom of an old man telling his story. Berry’s writing is, as always, masterful. There is an element of the story telling that reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. He tells the story, but often out of order and sometimes two ways.

Jayber writes, “I have raked my comb over scalps that were dirty both above and beneath. I have lowered the ears of good men and bad, smart and stupid, young and old, kind and mean; of men who have killed other men (think of that) and of men who have been killed (think of that).”  Yet, he loves them all—or almost all.

The connections that Jayber Crow makes with the people of Port William define him. They form and shape him. He tells about the old men, farmers who sit and tell stories or bring out their instruments and sing, “I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.”

Jayber’s story is about community, about love, and about belonging. I think Jayber’s story can speak to us all. Berry’s expert storytelling gives us an old man that is lovable and relatable, wise and yet, through his reminiscences, in need of wisdom. There is much to learn from the old barber, Jayber Crow.

I recommend this book with all my heart. I give it a sold 5/5, maybe even a 5.5. Read it.

Some favorite quotes:
“The University… was preparing people from the world of the past for the world of the future, and what it was missing was the world of the present, where every body was living its small, short, surprising, miserable, wonderful, blessed, damaged, only life.”

“I became a sort of garden fanatic, and I am not yet over it.”

Of Miss Gladdie Finn: “When she got tired of some of her stuff, she would gather it into her apron and hike off among the neighbors to trade for stuff that they were tired of.”

Of WWII: “What had caused it? It was caused, I thought, by people failing to love one another, failing to love their enemies.”

Of Cecilia Overhold: “Of courses, Cecilia held some secret doubts about herself; you can’t dislike nearly everybody and be quite certain that you have exempted yourself.”

Of Roy Overhold: “Roy lived too hard up against mystery to be without religion.”

“I feel a little weary in calling them “the dead,” for I am as mystified as anybody by the transformation known as death, and the Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

“As I buried the dead and walked among them, I wanted to make my heart as big as heaven to include them all and love them and not be distracted. I couldn’t do it, of course, but I wanted to.”

There is much, much more, but for fear of spoiling the story, I will refrain!

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

This review was written for CatholicFiction.net

If you’ve read my book blog before, you know that while I praise Lewis as one of the greatest writers of the last century, I generally avoid doing book reviews of his work. This is primarily because I feel unworthy of writing such a review. As one of my primary influences both in literature and theology, Lewis is one of my heroes. You cannot give an objective review of your hero.

That being said, I want to share with you my thoughts on The Horse and His Boy. Now, The Horse and His Boy is either my first or second favorite of the Narnia series (it goes back and forth between THaHB and The Last Battle).

Unlike most of the books in the Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy is a story of its own, with few references to England and only a small number of hat tips to previous adventures. Fans of the Pevensies get to see King Edmund and Queens Lucy and Susan in their glory (well, Lucy and Ed are in their glory—Susan is silly as ever). A few encounters with the Pevensies as more-or-less grown adults with little memory of their true identities are the extent of direct references to the earlier and later stories. The Horse and His Boy is able to stand alone; yet the story takes place almost entirely in Calormen and Archenland, not in Narnia, which also gives shape to the series as a whole.

The story follows two main story lines. The first is that of Shasta, a young boy who finds out that the fisherman who raised him is not his father when he hears the fisherman plotting to sell him to a Tarkaan. The Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, turns out to be a talking horse from Narnia. Bree, knowing that he cannot escape alone, asks Shasta to be his rider:

“If you can’t ride, can you fall?”
“I suppose that anyone can fall,” said Shasta.
“I mean can you fall and get up again without crying and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?”
“I—I will try,” said Shasta. (p.209)*

The other storyline follows a young Tarkheena named Aravis who has escaped her father’s house after finding that her father is giving her as a wife to a much older man. First she planned to take her own life, but was stopped when her own horse, Hwin, reveals that she is also a talking horse and stops Aravis from finishing the act, persuading her to flee instead.

The two storylines collide when the children and their horses meet in the dessert, running from lions. Although they are wary of each other at first, they learn to be friends in the end. They have several short adventures together, trying to get to Narnia where they, and their horses, will be free.

As they are traveling through the capital city and making their way towards Narnia, the two become separated and each child has their own adventure and their own secrets to discover. These adventures in Tashbaan are crucial to both the plotline and the character development for the children. Shasta is given the first hint of his true identity and destiny while Aravis learns that she is made of different stuff than other Calormines and will never be happy among them. Together, they learn things (by listening to conversations that they were not meant to hear) that reveal their quest.

While I have read some complaints on review sites that Aslan does not feature well into this story, I think that is a silly thing to say. As in life when we can look back and see the actions of God in guiding us along, in this book Shasta and Aravis are given the opportunity to see where Aslan gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) guided them, guarded them, and helped them do what they were meant to do. Aslan walks into their lives and brings them to their vocations without them realizing it. In fact, they cannot realize his presence because they do not know. They were not raised learning about the lion who so intimately knows his people, instead they were raised learning about a distant god called Tash and practically worshipping the great Tisroc, their version of a king. They are not like Lucy Pevensie, who always recognizes Aslan before her siblings are able to: Aravis and Shasta must first know who Aslan is before they can recognize him. When they do come to know him, they come truly to know themselves. It is the same for Bree, who is embarrassed by his vanity when Aslan comes before him, and Hwin, whose response to Aslan is perhaps best of all:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little niegh, and trotted across to the lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
“Dearest daughter,” said Aslan, planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, “I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours.” (p. 299)*

Shasta as a character lacks complexity. I think that Shasta could be characterized as a classic shy introvert: he is awkward and doesn’t know social norms, but he is aware of his lack of knowledge, making him even more awkward. Bree, on the other hand, is exactly what you would expect from a showy warhorse. He is prideful, yet honorable.

If you are looking for a strong female character, look no further than Hwin and Aravis. Where Bree (the male horse) tires out and is prone to cowardice, Hwin gives all she can and is remains the strong, practical voice for the group. Modern readers will also be delighted to encounter Aravis—a strong young woman, capable of taking care of herself but not so independent as to refuse to work with others. She recognizes her faults (admittedly, sometimes after the fact) and is given equal importance to Shasta. Her courage and quick thinking often save the day.

In addition to being a strong female character (neither the first nor the last in this series), I think that Aravis is an extraordinary character in this series for her faith perspective. She is not from Narnia, and therefore not a child of Adam and Eve—meaning she is not part of the sacred lineage that Lewis makes so much of in his other works. Yet, Aslan still appears to her, still corrects her when she is wrong, still loves her gently and fiercely. Aslan’s mercy is also found in another even stranger place: his willingness to forgive and pardon Prince Rabadash, a very flat character who never outgrows his flaws of greed and pride. Aslan’s mercy and love are not limited to what could be called the faith community of Narnia and Archenland—two nations devoted to following Aslan. They extend to all the beings who inhabit the world he created. 

Another thing to note is that while Tash is a false god opposed to Aslan, Aslan is able to work miracles even through the temple of Tash. Lewis is saying here the same thing he repeats in The Last Battle: there are many names for God, there are many ways we recognize him, we cannot limit his power to be simply that which we expect from him. Aslan can work in ways outside of the expectations of his own people. He is, after all, not a tame lion.

I dearly love this book, but in each reading I learn something new—often gaining a deeper insight into what I think Lewis was getting at in writing a book so unlike the others. Ignoring the differences, however, we find that the story is yet another adventure story whose deep theological veins connect with the whole work that is The Chronicles of Narnia.

I give The Horse and His Boy  a 5/5.

*Quotations are cited based on the page numbers in the all-in-one version (978-0-06-623850-0)

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were on Fire

by Addie Zierman

I received this book for free from 

Blogging for Books

 for this review.

In her memoir about life as an evangelical teen in the WWJD-ridden church of the ‘90s, Addie Zierman reminds us all that sometimes you don’t have to be in a cult to experience a brain-washing, manipulative, and abusive cult-like atmosphere.


When We Were on Fire

, Zierman is open and honest about her past. Her writing goes back and forth between telling her story in first person and setting up the scene in the second person, making the reader feel like they are Addie in the story. An unusual but well employed writing style, Zierman helps the reader to relate and identify with both the painful and wonderful experiences about which Zierman writes.

While it’s hard to write a review about someone’s memoirs, I can say that I think this book is brilliantly written. Zierman puts her soul into it, openly sharing the pain and joy of her life with the reader.

I relate to a lot of what she writes. While the Evangelical Church of the 1990’s is well known for brain-washing, no faith tradition is completely free of that experience. What stuns me about her story is how deeply Zierman’s wounds impact her later life. Her memoir is like a combination story and warning: “Find a way to deal with this before you find yourself in my shoes. Work it out. See a counselor before you’re drunk and tempted to cheat on your husband because Church People are coming between the two of you.”

The one thing that really gets me about Zierman’s writing is that she holds nothing back. She is blatantly honest about driving drunk—no apologies, no self-defense. She just states it, the same way she states that as a child sanctity was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore. It is a brutal honesty, an honesty that, in my humble opinion, should be forgiven and loved rather than judged. This book is her confession in a sense—and it ends as all Christian stories should end, in hope and resurrection.

For more information about this author, see her website at



To read the first chapter of this book for free, visit http://www.convergentbooks.com/book/when-we-were-on-fire/

I give

When We Were on Fire

a solid 4/5.

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

I received this book for free to review through the Blogging for Books program.

Last night, I read the book Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther in its entirety. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is the day on which I chose to read it. It was the night before a busy day and I meant only to read a chapter or two, but I became so immersed in her story that I realized I was only a few chapters from the end and it was 2am. I literally could not put it down.

I think that my reaction to this book, from a spiritual perspective, is at first a little odd. Reading EE’s (as she calls herself on her blog) words, it was as if I related to some of the brainwashing experience— but of course, I didn’t actually grow up in a cult and I don’t consider myself brainwashed (every time someone told her that asking questions is a sin, I wanted to call my youth minister and thank him for encouraging questions—faith is so much more real when its your own and not imposed). It’s like she is able to capture so much in her writing that she makes the experience tangible, makes it real. Yet, looking back at the reading experience, I feel like there were many experiences she had that remind me of problems in my own faith tradition, albeit significantly worse. The Assembly seems to me like an extreme version of the already extreme right wing of the Church (the ones who considered themselves more Catholic than the pope when Benedict XVI was still on the throne—many of whom have found their groups being censored by Rome). I find the parallels slightly terrifying, but that’s for another blog.

EE not only grew up in The Assembly, a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group; the founder of the group, George Geftakys, is her grandfather, giving her at a unique perspective and insight into The Assembly from an early time until its demise. A small Christian sect that easily fits into the “cult” category, The Assembly used brain-washing and mind control tactics (essentially making all members terrified to disagree with anyone in the hierarchy) in addition to abusive corporal punishment on their children in the same line as the Pearls’ (in the book, EE even indicates that she thinks her grandfather’s church was worse than what the Pearls were known for). The Assembly was, along with many similar cults, guilty of misinterpreting scripture to make women submissive in the extreme, blaming every sin of the man on the weakness of the woman.

The interesting thing about memoirs of young people escaping from cults is that you already know the end when you pick it up: they get out. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing the story to begin with. With Elizabeth Esther, it’s a little different. Even though I certainly baulked at the things that she was taught in The Assembly, you can tell from her storytelling how intensely she believed the flawed theology that her parents and grandparents passed on to her, how much it hurt her to leave the community that she had been with since birth. You cry with her and agonize over the decision that she must eventually make: to leave The Assembly. It is easy to understand, and empathize with, her reasons for doing so. Yet, it is heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Esther is a phenomenal writer, especially given her past. The opportunity to walk with her on her journey is an opportunity to share sacred moments in her life. Her courage in writing this book and doing the work she does with survivors shines through in her willingness to share intimate and personal details about her life: spiritual, family, everything. She holds little back and it makes the story that much more touching.

If you want to read this book, you can check out the first chapter here. You can find more information on the publisher’s website and on Elizabeth Esther’s page.

I give Girl at the End of the World a 5/5—a rare honor, but deserved.

Note: This book, while wonderful and touching, is an emotional roller coaster. At some points, I sobbed reading it. At other points, my hand was clenched into a fist. I don’t recommend reading this book when you’re already feeling emotionally drained or depressed. It’s a great book, but the same writing that makes it so great also allows you to experience some small piece of the agony with the author, making it dangerous if you’re in an already emotionally unhealthy state.

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

This book was provided to me free of charge as part of the Blogging for Books program.

When I started this book back in November, I was eager to learn more about our new pope. Unfortunately, the book (through no fault of its own!) somehow ended up at the bottom of my reading pile. Now, a year after Pope Francis’ historic election, I have picked it up again.

Pray for Me has three distinct parts. The first part delves deeply into the first few days of Francis’ papacy, from his election to his Palm Sunday Mass. The second reveals some of the elements that have had a deep impact on him and have formed him into the man he is. The third is a collection of his own writings, revealing even more about the man who has succeeded Peter.

The first part goes deeply into those first few days, all the more important to me because during the first five days of Francis’ papacy, I was on mission without access to technology or information about what was going on in Rome. Even now, one year later, these events feel new and eye-opening to a traditional Roman Catholic. In reading this book, have been reminded again and again of the novelty of Francis and of the gift that the Holy Spirit has given our Church.

In the first part, Moynihan’s writing is clear and authentic. He gives us his own take on those first few days and lets us experience with him all that we, on the other side of the world, missed out on. Hearing his experiences talking with other reporters and journalists is also intriguing, it gives us an honest and unique vision of what was going on in Rome at that time.

Part two goes into his family background and his spiritual background, explaining events of his childhood, his calling, and listing five of his “spiritual guides,” (Jonah, Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, Don Luigi Guissani, and, of course, Francis of Assisi). I think that the range of these guides can tell us a lot about the dynamic spiritual life that Francis lives and encourages us to be less narrow-minded in our vision of Heaven. The Catholic Church is supposed to be “universal,” after all.

Part three is illuminating in the writings of Pope Francis, helping us to know him better and understand more fully the remarks he has made since those early days of his papacy.

While I am sure that there are many books out now about Pope Francis, I think that Pray for Me can give a unique perspective on the beginning of this papacy, important now and possibly, more important in the future. I give this book a solid 4/5.

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

I guess it’s obvious that I’m hooked. It was less than a week ago that I wrote about The Judas Strain and here I am, writing about another James Rollins book. I just couldn’t resist buying one of his books and then I couldn’t put it down.

At first, I was almost afraid to read another of his books, in fear that after the great experience I had with the first one, this one might be a let down. Nope. The Doomsday Key definitely met and exceeded expectations.

Again, the mash up of genres: archaeological adventure, science/medical thriller, historical fiction, and more. This time, there was even more Vatican/Roman Catholic involvement in the plot and, although I’m sure it would be controversial to some, I certainly enjoyed the read.

This time the plot follows a little more in order (or perhaps I am just getting used to Rollins’ writing). Instead of five different storylines to follow, now there are really three primary lines to keep up with, making it much easier to follow when you do have to put it down (darn work!).

The story begins in the modern world (well, during Benedict XVI’s reign as pope), with three gruesome murders across the globe: one, in Rome, of a Vatican archaeologist; the second, in Africa, of a young man working at a Red Cross camp that is also doing research on GMO corn; and the third, of his genetics professor at Princeton. The main story, without ruining too much of the end, follows two key lines. The first, follows the investigation of the link between the second and third murders by Director Crowe, an investigation that reveals a great deal about the engineering going into GMO crops and the very real dangers of planting GMO seed. The second line follows Gray and his team as they follow the clues left by the Vatican Archaeologist, trying to find what it was that got him killed. As the danger mounts, both teams find themselves traveling around the globe to find the answers before it is too late.

The plot ends up involving Saints Bernard of Clairveaux and Malachy, Malachy’s prediction, the Black Madonna, and the ancient Egyptians. I, whose studies of Bernard of Clairveaux were limited to whatever Dr. John Sommerfeldt has told me, had no idea of the complicated conspiracy theories behind these two best-friend holy men. Rollins’ writing is just generous enough to keep from offending while entertaining and educating. Again, Rollins balances his incredible plot with compelling facts from history.

I give The Doomsday Key  a solid 5. And, if you happen to have a copy of any of Rollins’ other books, I would love to borrow them.

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

This past week, I was on Alternative Spring Break with my students at the White Violet Center for Eco-Justice. While there, my friend Tracy Wilson lent me her copy of The Judas Strain. After reading only the preface, I simply did not want to put it down.

This book is like all great literary genres and modes all rolled into one. There is the historical fiction telling about Marco Polo’s travels, the scientific/medical thriller in the pandemic that is quickly spreading around the world threatening the entire population, the adventure of being on a ship taken over by pirates, the suspenseful story of the sweet older couple being tracked and tortured by would-be assassins, and the archaeological adventure story of chasing after the mysteries left by Polo’s descendants and later keepers of his secrets. Add to this a mysterious language, Vatican involvement, and the possibility of angels walking on earth and you have The Judas Strain. Even the title invokes memory of Judas betraying Christ, a literary character who has been revisited again and again. Perhaps the most intriguing part of the novel is the amount of seemingly fictional information that the author explains in his note at the end of the novel to be true.

So, you can see how this novel would appeal to me. As a history buff and philologist, as a devout Roman Catholic and employee of the RC Church (7 years running), and as someone who enjoys a good thriller, it is like this book was written just for me. And that’s not to mention that I love science literature and sci fi literature—one of my favorite classes was Faith and Sciences at the University of Dallas, taught by Dr. John Norris.

This was one great book. Explaining why is a challenge and I hope that I’m up to the task.

As a work of literature, it has everything. The characters are well written and you can see how they evolve throughout the story. By using multiple character perspectives, Rollins allows us to see each character through at least a couple lenses. The relationships between the characters are as complex as real-life relationships and following the ways that they change and grow makes the novel that much more real.

The plot is windy. A character met before the first chapter is lost until the end of chapter six. Storylines are dropped for a while and then picked up again, weaving a masterwork that brings multiple events and storylines into one larger story. But, while the plot is thick and takes a lot of concentration to follow at the beginning, eventually you can see how every word written ties into the larger tale.

While reason would lead you to question some of the decisions made (mostly by Vatican agents in the 1600s—I mean, come on, why split up a map into three different clues and hide them all over the world?), the pace of the story quickly gets you caught up in even the most intricate conspiracies. By the end, even the fantastical seems realistic (and, after all, the Church did do some pretty strange things during that century).

The end leaves nothing desired. While open to another story with the same characters and a new adventure, there are no loose ends that leave the reader dissatisfied: only new leads that could lead to a new story. And, as a big fan of Doctor Who, at the end I could almost hear Chris Eccleston saying, “Just once, Rose, just once everybody lives.” In spite of the mass death present throughout the book, at the end, there is no need for tears, only hope. That’s a good book.

I give The Judas Strain a solid 5.

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

After watching every episode of BBC’s Sherlock, both of RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes movies, and the first season of Elementary (please, Netflix, get season 2 soon!!), I decided it was time to try out the original.

A Study in Scarlet is the first of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels about the renowned and beloved detective, Sherlock Holmes. Here, we hear the tale of how Dr. John Watson, back in London after serving in Afghanistan, is seeking out lodgings and finds an old friend, Stamford, who connects him with a man named Sherlock Holmes.  Holmes, having found lodgings beyond his means, is looking for someone to share the cost. It is in this manner that the two, now known as two of the most famous characters from all of literature, first meet.

I feel no need to really review A Study in Scarlet, for Doyle’s work was famous and prized long before I was born and will continue to be so long after I am dead. However, I would like to say a few words about the book that surprised me.

First, as a fan of modern interpretations of Doyle’s work, it was fun—yes, fun—to meet the characters I already loved so dearly in their natural and original realm. I speak not only of Holmes and Watson, but of Gregson and Lestrade. The manner of Holmes’ detective work was also familiar, but even more ingenious than imagined after watching the modern television counterparts. Reading the book also helped me to appreciate the genius of the television writers—especially Moffat, who (given the fact that most long-time Whovians hate him), actually surprises me in his skill of interpreting this well-loved classic.

Second, I have to say I was surprised to find in the second book that Doyle takes the reader to America to discover, without any mention of Sherlock and Watson, the history of the events taking place in London. I was even more surprised to find that this history includes Brigham Young as a villain. How utterly unlooked for! But, in my opinion, how great in imagination and cultural understanding. Doyle is a genius. He’s not the grandfather of so many modern retellings for nothing!

I give this novel a solid 4 and I cannot wait to return to Sherlock in his next adventure.

Three by Kristen Simmons

Three by Kristen Simmons

I first started reading the Article 5 series by Kristen Simmons because my dear friend Hannah recommended it. At that point, only the first book was published. Since then, I have read each book as it came out. I recently finished the third novel in the trilogy, Three.

The Article 5 series is yet another in the long line of recent dystopian trilogies (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) to swamp the market. While the book does belong in my category of guilty pleasure/non-intellectual reading, I think it is very good (and I would remind friends that I place Austen, Bronte, and Arthur Conan Doyle in the same category).

The basic plot of the series is that the United States survived some war and the new government has taken over in such a way that limits and endangers the rights of most citizens (as in all dystopian novels of late). This particular new government is set up to mimic the old US government that we know and love, but in reality has very little in common. The government has taken on a religious identity, using moral codes (the articles referenced in the title) to control the population. Of course, like all such regimes, the religious quality is a sham and the leaders of the government care little for morality.

The articles take our Christian moral codes to an extreme that fly in the face of anything Christians should want to stand for. All those who do not follow the moral codes are either murdered (in the case of adults) or taken to a reform school (as Ember is when she is found to be a child conceived out of wedlock). There seems to be no justice in this new government.

In Three, Ember finds out much more about the rebel movement she learned about in the second novel, Breaking Point. The reader also finally is given some idea and background to understand what happened to make this government able to take over. Some might say that this last novel was Simmons’ way of saving her series (many critics said her world lacked substance because there was no history given to explain the current state of things). I, however, enjoyed the series thoroughly.

I would recommend that readers who find Article 5 less than satisfactory continue reading the rest of the series. Simmons’ writing might have been wanting in the first of the series, but by Three she has learned more about her craft. And, the most annoying part of Article 5 (the incessant whining and love-sickness of the young couple, Chase and Ember) has transformed into something that resembles a healthy relationship.

As with other dystopian novels, the criticisms of society found in the Article 5 series are well placed. Simmons reminds us that good things when taken to an extreme turn bad quite quickly.

I give both Three and the series as a whole a 3. I definitely recommend this series when you are looking for something that is interesting and a page-turner, but not overly taxing on the brain (the emotions are another story). I don’t recommend it when you are looking for something happy and simple! Like all dystopian novels, there is no way for a truly happy ending.

Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

When I was young, probably in the seventh or eighth grade, I saw one of Agatha Christie’s novels in movie format (for the life of me, I cannot remember which). I enjoyed it enough that I picked up copies of a few of her books at a booksale, but never got around to reading any of them. Recently, looking through my shelves for something to read, I found The Body in the Library.

I suspect that for most of my generation, the classic who-dunnit books no longer hold much interest, as we are so used to crime shows and mystery theater that wrap up stories so concisely and beautifully. Actually sitting down and reading a mystery novel in which there is no sex or steamy relationship gossip between the detectives is a far different experience from sitting down to this week’s episode of Criminal Minds, Elementary, or the like. Reading Christie’s novels is really more a practice in patience, for we do not see the truth until the very end. There are no clips of the murder taking place, no visuals or scenes to help us figure out the answer.

Bolstered by my identity as a crime show fan, I began the novel expecting to be able to figure it out before the last chapter. I had forgotten, of course, that Christie’s endings are almost always over-the-top ridiculous and unlikely scenarios. The murderer was so obvious, but his alibi so solid that you began to doubt his guilt and the means were so roundabout that I found myself completely confused before the end.

The basic plot is this: Colonel and Mrs. Bantry are woken up one morning by their very anxious maid, informing them that a dead body has been found in their library. While the colonel calls in the police (Col. Melchett and Inspector Slack), Mrs. Bantry calls her friend, Jane Marple, a local sleuth that seems to figure out the most complex crimes long before the police can work it out themselves. Finding that the young girl, identified by her cousin as a Miss Ruby Keene, was an entertainer at a local hotel (think Penny in Dirty Dancing, only nowhere near as intelligent or talented), Miss Marple and Mrs. Bantry head to the hotel as guests to do sleuthing of their own while the police do their own detective work. Eventually, the former head of Scotland Yard, Sir Henry, gets involved. With a great deal of digging around on the part of all four detectives (and after yet body is discovered and a third murder attempted), it is—of course—Miss Marple who puts the pieces together and clears the name of the framed suspect, finding the real criminals right under their noses.

The writing, of course, is quite good—Agatha Christie was an internationally renown writer for a reason (for she hails from the age when you actually had to be a good writer to be internationally renown… ahem, Stephanie Meyer). The dialect puts you in the time and you can easily imagine the voices and picture the characters. The scenes are described well with just enough left to the imagination that you can envision them in your head.

In spite of the high quality of the book, I did find myself becoming impatient. I wanted to know the ending without having to do the work—I actually considered finding a synopsis online, I was so eager to just know the answer! But this, I think, is the genius of Christie’s writing. At the time it was written (1942), there was no way of finding out the spoilers without simply turning to the last chapter. For those purists who do not read the last chapter first, the idea is to read through as quickly as possible, trying to piece the clues together and figure it out before Miss Marple shows everyone the truth.

About Miss Marple, I do find her character absurdly impossible, but in the same way that Sherlock Holmes (to whom she is compared by Sir Henry) is both absurd and impossible (although, I cannot imagine a modern version of a movie where Miss Marple is anywhere near as attractive as Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller). She is, in her own way, a compellingly simple yet profound character. I rather liked her a lot and perhaps should find more “Miss Marple Murder Mysteries.”

I think I’ll give The Body in the Library a solid 3.5 stars—a high praise. I probably won’t read it again, but I definitely recommend it for the lover of detective stories. What fun!

Kaitlyn’s Star Guide:
0 stars: Don’t read it. A waste of your time. Worse than Twilight.
1 star: Read only if you’re very tired and desperate for something to read. Will probably rot your brain if you read it too much.
2 stars:  Good for what it is or not my taste.
3 stars: Decent book and worth reading, but not earth-shaking, much less earth-shattering.
4 stars: Really good, definitely something I will re-read sometime. Earth Shaking.
5 stars: Earth Shattering. Every single human being should read this. It should be required for citizenship of the world. Seriously. Why aren’t you reading it yet? LIFE CHANGING.